Steve Bruce’s arrival at Newcastle United in July was met with a huge backlash from a significant proportion of Magpies supporters. The Northumberland-born Toon fan was low on everyone’s wish list (if he even appeared on any wish lists!) for the St James’ Park hotseat and thousands took to social media to ridicule his appointment.
Out came the toxic tweets: a cabbage superimposed onto Bruce’s face, referencing the aforementioned vegetable being lobbed at him by a vexed Villa fan in 2018, #BruceOut, #announcerelegation and all manner of personal insults directed towards the Magpies’ new boss flooded my Twitter timeline.
As a Newcastle supporter, I completely understand the anger my fellow fans feel and would never try to deny anyone the right to vent their dissatisfaction – they pay good money to watch their club and are entitled to have their say.
Following two mid-table finishes under the stewardship of Rafa Benitez we’d all hoped that this summer would prove to be a turning point. That Mike Ashley would finally sell the club after interest from Dubai-based billionaire Sheikh Khaled.
That Rafa would sign a new contract and we’d keep hold of our best players. Sadly, as is all-too often the case with Newcastle, those hopes proved fanciful. The sale fell through (again), Rafa left and took Rondon with him, and Ashley cashed in on Ayoze Perez, making a tidy profit of over £25m.
It was all a bit predictable. We’ve seen it all before, yet it’s impossible not to let one’s imagination run wild. Owned by a billionaire, a world-class manager at the helm, breaking the transfer record to bring Mbappe to SJP. Never going to happen was it?
So, instead we’re left with Bruce, who took charge of the 11th club of his managerial career at Newcastle. Bruce is an often-derided figure. He wears his heart on his sleeve, which I respect, but the weight of expectation of the North East’s largest club cares little for personal sentiment.
Bruce was undoubtedly a fantastic centre-back, who surprisingly never played for England. However, as a manager, most see him as not quite cutting the mustard at the highest level.
He has a great record of getting teams promoted from the Championship – he took both Hull City and Birmingham City up twice – but in the Premier League his record doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. He has the second-worst win percentage (33%) of any PL boss to have managed more than 200 games. That’s a pretty telling statistic.
Like it or not though, we’re stuck with him. He’s not to blame for the situation at the club, that responsibility lays firmly at the feet of Ashley. Bruce is desperate to bring positivity back to SJP and achieve success in what he describes as his dream job.
He’s stated that he won’t be Ashley’s puppet (something I think he likes to believe is true but probably knows is unrealistic) and managed to bring in some exciting, yet unproven signings – Joelinton and Allan Saint Maximin – while also securing the return of prodigal son Andy Carroll.
He also added Emil Krafth and Jetro Willems, both of whom are proven internationals. How much say he had in any of these transfers can’t be fully determined, but given some of Newcastle’s transfer windows over recent years, this one has to be seen as a great improvement.
Following an opening-day defeat to Arsenal, in which the Toon looked toothless, and a chastening away loss at newly-promoted Norwich, the knives were already being sharpened. I can’t deny that I was already resigned to a relegation scrap and thoroughly depressing season.
Fast forward a week or so and the team managed a backs-to-the-wall 1-0 away win at last season’s Champions League finalists Tottenham. It was by no means a managerial masterclass from Bruce but the team’s desire, fight and organisation were clear to see.
Suddenly things seemed a little brighter, such is the fickle nature of football. Don’t get me wrong, one swallow does not a summer make, but matching our points total after 11 games last season in just three this term is something to be positive about!
Prior to the start of the campaign, Bruce said we’d prioritise progress in the cup competitions, aware of the Geordies’ displeasure at the lame exits made in both the League and FA Cups over recent years.
This was something his predecessors neglected to do but following last Wednesday night’s penalty shoot-out defeat at home to Leicester City we’re now left with the slim hopes of a decent FA Cup run. Most likely we’ll get drawn away to Manchester City in the third round and be left with nothing but Premier League survival to play for come January.
That survival is likely to hinge on our ability to beat the teams around us, not our record against the top six. So, it was disappointing to only pick up a point in a 1-1 draw at home to Watford, who had lost all three of their opening games.
The Toon did well to come back from conceding a goal two minutes in but the performance lacked any real inspiration or cutting edge. The attendance was recorded as 44,157, illustrating that plenty of fans are still making their feelings known by boycotting SJP.
With that in mind, I believe now’s the time to get behind Bruce. A Geordie friend of mine recently highlighted what an impact the fans can have on the team and I’m 100% with him. Negativity won’t help breed success, quite the opposite in fact.
Of course, we’re angry with how our club has been run over the past decade. We’re a club with immense potential and a wonderful history. But in my lifetime, we’ve always been the football personification of the colours we wear, black and white.
We swing between euphoric upsets (Newcastle were the only team to beat Man City in the league during the second half of last season) and crisis and turmoil. When the ground is full and rocking, the crowd spur the team on and we typically see an improvement in performances and results. I hope that we’ll gradually get back there over the coming months.
Going into the international break we sit 14th on four points, having already played Arsenal and Tottenham, two teams seen as shoe-ins for the top six. That’s not a bad return and should be viewed as a platform on which we can build. To do that we need to be United as a team and united as a fanbase.
Steve Bruce may not be the appointment the fans wanted but hating on him is counterproductive. Protest against the Ashley regime and boycott if you like, I’m all for personal expression. But personally, I’d like to see people give Bruce a break and get behind him and the team. That’s what I’ll be doing, albeit with tempered expectations…